ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
At seven every weeknight, Lüke is bustling. The bar will be full, and most of the dining room, too. The crowd is young and good-looking. That’s ironic, because the premises were designed with old-fart restaurants of the past in mind. But many of men have that Woody-Woodpecker crest down the center of their pates, and the women are slim and stylish.
Yes, it’s unexpected that this crowd would be drawn to a restaurant that reaches back to another era of dining. And two places: the New Orleans of the pre-suburban era, and Alsace in France. It’s hard to believe that anyone under the age of thirty would know what a pastis is, let alone order one as a cocktail. But here we find a half-dozen versions of the drink.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Lüke is the most eccentric yet most successful of Chef John Besh’s group of six restaurants, and one of the most unusual restaurants in New Orleans. It’s patterned on the bistros of France, particularly those in the Alsace region. It also recalls certain restaurants from a century ago in New Orleans, notably the old German restaurant Kolb’s. The menu is a mix of local dishes and Alsatian ones. Functioning as the all-day restaurant of the Hilton Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, it serves three meals a day, all day long, seven days a week. It draws a young adult crowd from the many nearby office towers.
Luke’s menu is charming, because everything on it seems to have come from another era. It operates like an old restaurant, too, making in-house even items that are quite difficult–a wide array of charcuterie, for example. Chilled fresh seafood is a major specialty, with enough varieties that one can make a very satisfying meal from it. Even the oysters come from several different places.
Chef John Besh channeled his past to open Lüke, his second restaurant. (His flagship is Restaurant August.) He worked in France for some time, and before that was in the kitchen of a German restaurant in his hometown of Slidell. The restaurant is named for his son; ignore the umlaut when pronouncing it. The restaurant is in the historic and unique former Masonic Temple Building, and has been a number of restaurants over the years–most recently Cobalt, which died when Katrina came. A second location of Luke opened in 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.
Lüke is divided in two by a passage into the lobby of the hotel. The front room is the more distinctive, with a big, dark-wood bar, high ceilings and furnishings that look ancient but were really built out in 2006. A point of interest is the belt-driven set of ceiling fans, along the lines of the ones at the old Kolb’s. The rear dining room surrounds an open kitchen, with tile floors and a less frenetic pace. Tables are unclothed, the napkins are dish towels, and wine is served in tumblers.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Baked oysters, Herbsaint, persillade crust
Pate of Louisiana rabbit & chicken livers, truffles, country bread croutons
Assiette de charcuterie, stone-ground mustard, house-made pickles
Roasted beets, blue cheese, mixed greens, spiced pistachios
Fried oyster, bacon, romaine & avocado salad
Le plateau de fruits de mer (assortments of fresh, chilled Gulf seafood, in several different sizes and selections
Pork schnitzel, wild mushroom ragout, pommes frites
Roasted chicken, rosemary potatoes, garden herbs, natural jus
Ragout of wild boar, garganelli pasta, parmesan
Jumbo shrimp “en cocotte,” jalapeño cheese grits, andouille, green onion sausages
Fresh gulf fish meunière or amandine
Lüke burger, Benton’s bacon, caramelized onions, tomatoes, Swiss cheese, house-made fries
Entrecôte grillée et frites (ribeye, maître d’hôtel butter, sauce béarnaise or sour mash steak sauce
FOR BEST RESULTS
The prix-fixe daily menus offer terrific food at a bargain price. That’s one of many good strategies for enjoying this place. Another is to begin with either the cold seafood platters or the boards of charcuterie, either of which can feed the whole table. And with one of the cocktail variations of the French pastis–the absinthe-inspired beverages. The hamburger here is one of the best in the city.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Regular wine glasses and real napkins would not make as quirky a statement, but they would be better. The cast-iron bowls in which many dishes are served are hard to eat from.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +2
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +3
- Local Color +2
- Live music some nights
- Good for business meetings
- Early-evening specials
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Open all afternoon
- Oyster bar
- Unusually large servings
- Good for children
- Reservations honored promptly